[Please be aware this post is full of spoilers!]
It is difficult to know where to start with this entry, so much has happened in the second section of this novel…and yet it has ended in virtually the same place as the one before it. Scarlett, while she has been through many life altering events up to this point, remains fundamentally unchanged. It is almost annoying how she has not matured at all. Still, even after being married and widowed, after bearing a son, after tending to wounded confederate soldiers in Atlanta hospitals, she is more concerned with clothes and fancy hatsZ than anything else. She seems almost even more of a spoiled brat in this section because in these times when she is needed to work for ‘the Cause’, she does so only for pretenses, not for any actual desire to do good. She has no compassion whatsoever, which is going to be hard to forgive – she has a lot to make up for in order for me to respect her. She is so hung up on this ‘love’ of Ashley Wilkes that she constantly takes for granted the only person who seems to truly be her friend, Melanie. I put love in quotes because although Ashley is a very smart and honorable character who is easily loved, Scarlett only ‘loves’ him for how beautiful he looked one day after she’d not seen him for awhile (and probably most of all because she can’t have him) and not for his brain or heart, as she should do.
Melanie seems to be the only female character with any sense so far. She is everything Scarlett isn’t: compassionate, empathetic, smart. She tends to the soldiers and raises money for The Cause dutifully and with a sense of righteousness, even when it means she has to sacrifice something. Scarlett is horrible to her and Melanie believes it is because the loss of Charlie that makes her act so, well, bitchy. Her brother’s loss is so prominent in her own heart, and this makes me dislike Scarlett even more. Because Scarlett is so catty and attention grabbing, Melanie makes less of her own feelings because she feels it must be even worse for Scarlett having lost him as a husband than for her having lost him as a brother…and all the time Scarlett could care less. What kind of soulless person can have married a man, had his child, lived in the house he grew up in with his sister and aunt who raised him, and not feel even the slightest bit of sadness, or at least a bit of sympathy? I think this is the thing that bothers me the most about Scarlett.
I also feel that Scarlett is made to be less bright in this section. I thought in the beginning she was too preoccupied with herself to pay attention to things, but that she did really have reasoning skills. This section made me question whether she has the ability to reason at all. Unless it had to do with manipulating the feelings of a man, of course. When Scarlett reads the letters from Ashley, she doesn’t seem to understand what they mean. Is she really that dim, or is it because she just doesn’t have any interest in it? It must be a severe disinterest, since those are the only words from her ‘beloved’ that she has to read, so you would think she would hang on to every one of them. It’s a little confusing when she hears the things Rhett Butler says and goes on to call it common sense. Is it just that she has been so brainwashed by the southern culture that she doesn’t seem to understand his concepts very well? Perhaps. But maybe she’s just dim and requires everyone else to do the thinking for her.
Rhett Butler is also unlikeable, yet I like him much more than Scarlett. Although his motives are entirely monetary, he doesn’t seem like a bad person, just one who has learned the hard lesson that the only person you can depend on is yourself. He has given many gifts out of compassion (buying the satin for a wedding dress, and acquiring Melanie’s wedding ring back for her). He doesn’t care what people think of him, but that is ALL Scarlett cares about. As Rhett tries to make her see that the gossip doesn’t mean anything, it becomes a battle of ‘how much can I get away with as a widow in mourning without my mother finding out?’ for her. She is entirely selfish, although, so is he’s.
I also want to touch on the southern traditions and culture at play here. There were very strict rules of ‘proper’ conduct and when you acted outside of those expectations, you were at best gossiped about, and at worst, ruined. The ‘rules’ of mourning sound especially tough, and this is one area where I do feel sorry for Scarlett. Not that Scarlett is in grief, but people deal with it differently, and should be allowed to partake in whatever they feel comfortable doing to heal. It seems very silly to me to not allow someone to go to social events for YEARS. Especially girls who are widowed so young in times of war. Luckily Scarlett had Rhett Butler, who is maybe one of two people who truly know Scarlett’s true character (the other being her father Gerald), to help her be more herself and break down the social barriers a little bit. Reputation was everything in those days.
I am annoyed by Scarlett’s behavior towards the end of this part. Still believing that Ashley returns her love after he has spurned her again and again – how is it possible? She is blinding herself, making up her own reality and doesn’t even seem to realize she’s doing it. And beyond that, she is falling in love with Rhett, but is too stupid to actually realize that they are REAL feelings she is having towards Rhett, when her relationship with Ashley is actually a relationship with her own mind.
I do not know where the story will go from here. Already the war is almost over and I am only a quarter of the way through the book. I am skeptical that Scarlett will be able to redeem herself and become someone I can respect. I am infinitely curious to see what the catalyst could possibly be for so radical a change. Hopefully there will be some progress in Scarlett’s character in Part III.